While modern cars are designed to last for years and operate in almost any weather conditions, they will begin to deteriorate if left unused for extended periods. Typical problems can include rusty brakes, leaks in seals that have dried out, and a dead battery.
Maintaining a car doesn't have to include continual checks. However, driving the vehicle once every week or two can go a long way to keeping the tyres and brakes in good condition, preventing rust and leaks by ensuring the car engine is lubricated.
Long-term, car engines can become home to infestations, causing severe issues with heating and brakes, so looking after a vehicle, even if you only take it around the block, is time and money well spent.
How Long Can You Leave a Car Parked Before it Begins to Deteriorate?
If you are away for a couple of weeks on holiday, you needn’t worry that your car will stop working on your return – anything longer, and you should consider some basic checks to ensure the vehicle and engine are in good condition.
A lot also depends on where you store your car. If it is parked in a garage and protected from the elements, your vehicle won't be as exposed to temperature fluctuations which can expedite any deterioration.
However, even cars stored in garages can suffer from infestations after a certain period.
Older vintage cars may also require greater maintenance and could be more likely to develop rust spots or leaks with components already approaching the end of their lifespan. Keeping the vehicle in optimal condition by driving it regularly can prevent any drop in its value.
Maintaining a Car That You Don’t Drive Very Often
The first and perhaps most obvious tip is to drive the car for 15 or 20 minutes every week or two.
Short drives are perfectly fine and allowing the engine to warm up is an easy way to keep the lubrication and cooling components working while mitigating the risk of fuel system parts breaking down.
Using the brakes this way can help remove rust that has started forming on the brakes, prevent your tyres from forming bald or flat spots where they are stationary, and ensure the battery is recharged, essentially keeping your car safer to drive.
Recharging an Unused Car Battery
If you don't have time to drive your car, you can leave it running for around a quarter of an hour every week – although you should be conscious about ventilation if your vehicle is parked in a garage or enclosed space.
The battery is one of the parts that will stop functioning more quickly if a car is not being used. Allowing the engine to run will recharge the battery and prevent it from running down to completely flat, which normally means buying a new battery.
Maintaining Adequate Tyre Pressure
Tyres gradually deflate, and if a car is in a static position will begin to lose pressure increasingly quickly. You can also get flat spots on the bottom due to the constant pressure, and you must ensure the tyres are roadworthy and safe to drive on.
Most manufacturers recommend checking tyre pressure monthly because a flat or bald tyre can potentially be dangerous.
Inspecting Car Fluids
Leaving a car parked for extended periods with a full fuel tank is preferable because this stops condensation from accumulating in the tank. You can also add a stabiliser which prevents the fuel from breaking down if you don't expect to drive the car from time to time.
All other fluids benefit from a top-up, including oils and coolants. Any lubrication due for a change will still need to be replaced at normal intervals, even if the car hasn't been used.
Keep an eye out for leaks and drips underneath the car; you should also fill up the windscreen fluid.
Preserving Brakes and Brake Discs
Corroded brake discs are a safety hazard. If you haven't driven a car for a long time, there is a greater possibility of the car brakes seizing the next time you take the vehicle out, which means an urgent visit to a mechanic.
The better option is to give the car a drive or move it back and forth in the static position, with the engine on, to stop rust from building up.
This task won't usually be necessary if you drive the car at least once a fortnight.
Car Registration and Servicing
Depending on where you park your car and the age of the vehicle, you will very likely require car tax, a valid MOT and car insurance so that the next time you use your vehicle, it is legally allowed on the road. Most drivers will also need to pay car tax if they park anywhere but on private property such as a garage or driveway.
You can apply for a Statutory Off-Road Notification (SORN) if you anticipate leaving a car for a long time, but you cannot drive the car or take it onto a public road in any circumstance.
Essential Maintenance Checks Before Driving a Car That Has Been Left in Storage
Before you drive a car for the first time in several weeks, you should ensure the vehicle is safe and in an appropriate condition to be on the road. Ensure all the fluids are sufficient and test the lights to confirm that none of the bulbs has blown.
Next, look at your car tyres pressure and tread to verify that you have at least 1.6 mm of tread – anything less and your car is not road legal.
If your car has been stored in a garage, driveway or under a tarpaulin for longer, it is also advisable to have a check of the insurance and tax documents – as well as your MOT – to double-check that all your paperwork is in date and have a look underneath the bonnet for any sign of infestation.
Finally, start slowly and test the brakes before you drive on a busy public road.
Although components only begin to show wear and tear after extended periods in storage, it is better to err on the side of caution since low brake fluid or rusty brake pads could be hazardous.